One NYC Stagehand (who has a blog) posted some great food for thought in the comments to my post about the current stagehand/producer conflict on Broadway. Everyone should read it, so I'm pasting it up right here.
You are correct when you say that this has been brewing for years. With the large corporations moving into the Broadway arena, a much more corporate mentality is coming to the theatres. Charlotte St. Martin, the new head of the League, comes out of the hospitality industry and we know how they feel about their workers. A Pew study found that 17% of all illegal Mexicans work in the hospitality industry. Robert Sillerman, producer on “The Producers” and “Young Frankenstein”, is out of Clear Channel, no friend to the theatre professional there. Sillerman has decided that for “Young Frankenstein” he will not be posting the grosses on the show, as they are nobodies business but he and Mel. It seems Max Bialystock is now his role model.
It’s a straw man argument that because we’ve got computers and hydraulics and digital this and robotics that, everything changes contractually. Hours, wages and conditions of employment, that’s what’s in a contract. As the equipment becomes more complex, so does the load-in. If you want a plywood set and cloth backdrops, that’s not going to cost you nearly as much to load-in as say, a flying car, 200 moving lights or a surround sound system. The sets today are made of steel, they fly, roll, disappear, do everything except make coffee. We install, operate and maintain some of the best theatrical equipment in the world in small, cramped, outdated theatres and do it safely. This changes nothing about the contract. You still need the manpower to get it in the door and smart, skilled manpower to run it. We, the stagehands, actors and musicians, make the audience gasp with delight and keep them coming back.
The biggest reason the “yellow card” is such an issue is that the crew size on the road is determined by standards set in NYC. It’s a snowball effect. The “yellow card” is a contractual device that requires that if the show coming out of NYC is the same size, then they have to hire the same size crew in the new city. The show doesn’t get smaller the further away from NYC it gets. The “yellow card” is a protection for all stagehands in the country.
Perhaps here would be a good time to discuss accounting practices. A lot of times a loss is not really a loss. A couple of bad weeks on Broadway and a show can run for years on the road. With merchandise and ancillary monies coming in, a profit can still be made even with half full houses. It’s just not reported that way.
The Producers want to return the Investors money sooner and they feel they can do that by cutting labor costs (about 8% of your ticket price). Not by picking better shows, not by better pre-production work to make to load-in go smoother but by hammering the guy who’s mopping the stage. This is like somebody going to Atlantic City and telling the waitress that she’s got to work for less because they don’t like the odds at the craps table.
My advice. Don’t invest harder, invest smarter.
Excellent, excellent stuff. So ... any producers out there wanna chime in with the opposing view? Any IATSE members wanna add to this?